Self-care is not selfish

Hilary Detwiller.

In 2017, Hilary Detwiller felt just awful.

She’d been diagnosed with a hormone imbalance. Essentially her body wasn’t producing enough hormones, which in turn led to all kinds of highly unpleasant symptoms: extremely irregular periods, constant low-grade headaches and fatigue, joint pain, all accompanied – unsurprisingly – by anxiety. “It felt insurmountable, very heavy and low,” says the mom of two. “If I could muster up the energy to do a single load of laundry in a day, I considered it a win.”

Her doctor suggested hormone replacement therapy (HRT). But Hilary, who had just turned 40, felt too young to go down that path and was reluctant to expose herself to some of the health risks of HRT. “I told my doctor, ‘Give me three months to find a different solution.’ And she did, very reluctantly.”

Hilary returned to her home, in a tiny town on Vancouver Island, and dove into research, looking online for any information that seemed relevant to her condition. What kept coming up was the need to regulate and balance her insulin levels. She changed her diet dramatically, cutting out the foods — sugar, alcohol, most fruits and grains, anything processed — that caused insulin levels to spike. She cooked her family’s meals from scratch and began using as much organic food as possible, including produce from the family’s hobby farm and backyard chickens.

“Basically, I was eating lots of vegetables, a tiny amount of fruit and meat, and nuts and seeds.”

Right away, Hilary began to feel better. Within a few weeks, her menstrual cycle had evened out completely. She had energy. The headaches and pain disappeared. And she thought, “I’m onto something here.”

That initial change, what Hilary refers to as “decluttering her diet,” snowballed into other areas of her life.

First, she took a close look at how she spent her time.

“I got very fussy about my schedule. I started saying no to any superfluous obligations. I took a hiatus from all my volunteer activities.” She began to pay attention to the rhythms of the day, and to time her activities according to them: up with the sun; going to bed at nightfall; eating, exercising and meditating at the same time each day. “I knew that I needed to take care of myself, to replenish my energy so that I could one day be able to give my time.”

Her home came next. “I looked around my house, and all I could see was clutter, all these things that I had that no longer felt like me. They all seemed heavy, and I wanted to feel light. I cleared a week in my schedule and went through the entire house, clearing away everything that didn’t fit.”

She even cut off her hair. “It felt like more clutter,” she says, “a reminder of that time when I felt so unwell. It really was cathartic, letting go of the old me (the one who felt so heavy and unwell) and embracing the new one. Now, my husband and I cut our own hair with clippers.”

Henry and Maya.

Today, the family is striving toward a zero-waste lifestyle, although Hilary admits they’ve got a ways to go before getting there completely. In the meantime, they’re committed to buying only what they need, reusing and composting, and are saving up for solar energy — and a greywater system — for the house.

Their money came next. Hilary went through the family’s finances with what she describes as “surgical precision,” analyzing their spending and simplifying and automating as much as possible. Her husband, Dennis, is a self-employed video game developer, author, and illustrator. Hilary, meanwhile, is a stay-at-home mom to Maya, 10, and Henry, 7. As the self-described “Chief Financial Officer” of her family, she’s embraced frugality and simple living as a way for the four to live comfortably on one salary.

With her diet, schedule, home, hair, and money decluttered, Hilary sat back and let herself absorb the changes. “At that point,” she says, “I could finally begin to hear the whispers of what my bigger purpose was. And I realize that what I wanted to do was be of service to people — in particular to women, mothers — who are in the same position as I was: depleted.”

Now 42, Hilary had rekindled her daily yoga practice, and deepened her lifelong interest in Ayurveda, an ancient Indian healthcare practice that focuses on balance. She’s currently studying to become a certified yoga instructor, and in 2019 will begin taking courses to become a certified Ayurvedic practitioner.

“My mission is to help women turn around self-care, to give them the tools and the confidence they need to become more centred, balanced, calm; to feel good in their skins, to handle the day-to-day stresses of life.” That might mean creating resources for clients around diet, exercise, and lifestyle adjustments, building on her training in yoga and Ayurveda.

Most important, she says, she wants to help her clients — and the culture at large — understand that self-care is not selfish. “Taking care of yourself is actually the most selfless thing you can do,” she says. “When you don’t feel good, it’s so much harder to be the kind of parent you want to be. You can’t be as good a steward of the environment. It’s so much harder to find your purpose. Everything worth doing in this world starts with feeling strong and healthy.”

“I’ve definitely noticed that since I have become well in body, I have become a more patient, more pleasant parent. It’s tough to stay positive and engaged with your kids when you’re not feeling well. And it’s so much easier to be plugged into them now.”

When Hilary’s doctor tested her hormone levels after three months, they were back to normal. And she felt great, no HRT required.

“My doctor asked what I did, and I told her, ‘I put my own needs first, for the first time in my life.’”

SUSAN GOLDBERG is a writer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families.


The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Follow us on Instagram.

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